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The Revisionist Scholar Ernst Nolte Provokes the Historikerstreit [“Quarrel of the Historians”] (June 6, 1986)

With his attack on the “black and white” treatment of the past, the revisionist historian Ernst Nolte unleashed a fierce controversy about German responsibility for the Holocaust. He emphasized that the Bolsheviks pioneered many of the criminal methods later used by the Nazis, who only responded to the Red Terror.

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The Past That Will Not Pass: A Speech That Could Be Written but Not Delivered


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Black and White Images

There are good reasons for this. The more unequivocally the Federal Republic and Western nations in general develop toward social-welfare societies, the more disturbing becomes the image of the Third Reich with its ideology of warlike self-sacrifice; its maxim of "canons instead of butter"; and the Edda quotations, such as "Our Death Will Be a Festive One," loudly chanted at school celebrations. All people today are pacifists by conviction, but they cannot look back from a safe distance upon the bellicosity of the Third Reich because they know that year in and year out both superpowers spend far more for their arms than Hitler spent from 1933 to 1939. Thus a deep-seated insecurity remains. We prefer to confront our enemies from a position of certainty rather than from the confusion of the present.

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But has it only been the stubbornness of the pays réel of normal, everyday Germans who have set themselves against this nonpassing of the past and have wanted a line to be drawn so that the German past might be seen as not essentially different from other pasts?

Is there not a core of truth in many of these questions and arguments that in a sense erect a wall against the desire to ceaselessly deal with National Socialism? I am offering some of these arguments and questions in order to conceptualize this "failing," which, in my opinion, is the decisive one, and to outline this process of "coming to grips with the past," which has little to do with the much-evoked desire to finally draw a line under the German past.

It is especially those people who most frequently and most negatively speak of "interests" who fail to allow the question whether with this nonpassing of the past interests are also at play, for example, the interests of a new generation in the age-old struggle against "the fathers"—or interests of the persecuted and their heirs in having a permanent special status and the privileges that go with it.

The talk about "the guilt of the Germans" all too blithely overlooks the similarity to the talk about "the guilt of the Jews," which was a main argument of the National Socialists. All accusations of guilt that come from Germans are dishonest since the accusers fail to include themselves or the group they represent and in essence simply desire to administer the coup de grace to their old enemies.

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